The Top 10 Moments of Bob Dylan’s Career

In honor of the folk singer’s 70th birthday, we have selected 10 of the many pivotal events that have shaped his tumultuous life

Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 where he was an acoustic icon. The following year, he went electric. (Redferns / Getty Images)

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7. A Simple Twist of Fate
Dylan dropped in on a painter and teacher named Norman Raeben, then 73, in New York during the spring of 1974 and spent a few months working with him, along with other students, for eight hours a day, five days a week. To Raeben, Dylan was just another student, one he frequently called an idiot. Raeben, Dylan said a few years later, “looked into you and told you what you were. He taught me how to see in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt.” The first album after the Raeben lessons was Blood On the Tracks, a masterpiece that reinvented Dylan as an intensely personal songwriter willing to examine the raw, dark side of love, notably on “Tangled Up in Blue.”

8. Gotta Serve Somebody
the end of a San Diego show on November 17, 1978, a fan, perhaps noticing Dylan faltering in poor health, threw a small silver cross on stage. Dylan picked it up. A night later in a Tucson hotel room, he says Jesus appeared and put his hand on him. “I felt it,” he said. “I felt it all over me.” In 1983, after two evangelical albums, Dylan set aside the fire and brimstone. “It’s time for me to do something else,” he said. “Jesus himself only preached for three years.”

9. Walking That Endless Highway
Dylan responded to writer's block and a couple of poorly received albums by beginning the Never Ending Tour. A show in Concord, California, on June 7, 1988, is now considered the first. Over more than two decades since, Dylan has averaged about 100 performances a year, playing more than 450 different songs. “A lot of people don’t like the road, but it’s as natural to me as breathing,” he said in 1997. “It’s the only place you can be who you want to be. I don’t want to put on the mask of celebrity. I’d rather just do my work and see it as a trade.”

10. Not Dark Yet
Just when it seemed like Dylan’s creative fire had waned—he hadn’t released an album of new material in six years—he produced 1997’s Time Out of Mind, his second collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois. The album, a riveting, unflinching look at lost love and mortality, drew comparisons to “Blood on the Tracks” and earned him three Grammy Awards, including album of the year. His music, Dylan said at the time, endures because it is built on the foundation of folk music of Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. “I really was never any more than what I was—a folk musician who gazed into the grey mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze,” he wrote in Chronicles, the first volume of his memoir. “I wasn’t a preacher performing miracles.”

About Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison is a freelance writer whose stories, reported from two dozen countries, have appeared in numerous publications including, the New York Times, and National Wildlife.

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